Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Walk 25 -- Walmer Castle to Deal Pier

Ages: Colin was 59 years and 78 days. Rosemary was 56 years and 220 days.
Weather: A fraction cooler than yesterday with a whisper of cloud cover.
Location: Walmer Castle to Deal Pier.
Distance: 2 miles.
Total distance: 152½ miles.
Terrain: Concrete and tarmacked esplanade.
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: No.9 at Deal, another concrete one!
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: ‘The Ship’ in Deal where Kentish Pride was nothing to be proud of and Noble Ox tasted burnt!
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.6 at Walmer castle and no.7 at Deal Castle.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We camped the night before in Walmer. In the morning we walked to Walmer Castle.
At the end, we walked back to the campsite from Deal.There was a cloud cover today which made walking altogether a more pleasant experience. We bought our lunch in the village of Walmer before walking the mile back to the seashore to start our walk. A few yards along the road I realised that a corn was beginning to be troublesome on my toe, so we turned back to the village to buy some of those cushioned rings at the chemist. Further on we found a bench to sit on, so I removed my boot and attached one of them – bliss! No more trouble from that quarter all day.

It has occurred to me that I have not mentioned my arthritic toe which featured very prominently in our first few walks. Well, I have not had a ‘miracle cure’ or anything, but I no longer have any bother with it because of two things. One is a painkilling gel called ‘Powergel’ which my doctor gave me on prescription. I apply it always just before putting my boots on and then carry the tube with me, though very seldom have I had to reapply it before the end of a walk. It is very effective. The other thing is that last January I bought some new walking boots! They cost an arm and a leg, but By Golly! weren’t they worth it? They are unbelievably comfortable, and rock the foot forward as I walk so that much less effort has to go into the step and I don’t actually have to bend the offending toe joint. Now I can walk for mile upon mile without so much as a twinge, in fact for walks of less than five miles I usually don’t even bother with the ‘Powergel’. They have transformed my walking–isn’t modern technology wonderful?
While we were walking along the footpath next to Walmer Castle to get back to the beach, we had a wonderful experience. The footpath is rather dark with overhanging trees, and Colin suddenly grabbed my arm which I always know means he has seen or heard something. There was a scuffling in the leaves by our feet and out popped a shrew! It was tiny, a very dark grey with a pointed nose. It sniffled around in and out of the leaves for ages, then a second one appeared! They didn’t seem to be aware of our presence at all, and we both managed to take several photos of them. It was magical!
Then a woman came along with her child and a dog, so that was the end of that.

Now for the walk –
We continued along the combined footpath/cycle track from the point where we left it yesterday, but within a few yards we came to the car park for Walmer Castle which is opposite the entrance, so we turned in. We took the tape-tour which always brings it so much more to life.
Walmer Castle is one of three fortifications built along this bit of coast by Henry VIII in the early 16th Century. He had upset the Pope and the Spaniards by breaking with Rome in order to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. He closed the numerous monasteries which littered the country at the time, confiscated their wealth and allowed his mobs to ransack and vandalise the buildings. In fact, he used the stone from several local monasteries to build these three castles. Walmer was much altered in later years to form the residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The Duke of Wellington was one, in fact he died here. The present Lord Warden is the Queen Mother who, although she is almost a hundred and one years old, stayed here last week as part of her duties of the office!
It was an interesting tour, not so much of a fort as of a 19th Century residence. The gardens are beautiful. We went out to look at the lily pond which is very pretty, and saw numerous dragonflies and damselflies buzzing around—my favourite insects. We then walked up through the woods a little, and decided to sit on a bench by the croquet lawn to eat our lunch. As we approached the benches, we read the inscriptions on them—they were presented to the Queen Mother on her 100th birthday last August to mark the Millennium. Oh well, I’m sure she won’t mind if we sit down, I don’t think she uses them very often! Thank you, Queen Mum!
We then went back to the coast and continued towards Deal. Colin began to get very tetchy and tried to hurry me on, and it was all because he wanted to get to his chosen ‘real ale’ pub before it closed. I wanted to dawdle and look at things, after all today was supposed to be a relaxing time between two hard-walking days. We knew there was a carnival in Deal starting with a firework display this evening, to mark the start of the school summer holidays, and a fair was setting up on the green behind the beach where we approached the town. There was a small helicopter parked on the shingle, and on enquiry I discovered that rides were to be £20 per head for a ten minute flight! No thank you!
The caravans of the fair masked two features which I wanted to look at, but Colin wouldn’t let me so I had to give up the idea of a bus back at the end of the day so I could return and study them. One feature was a plaque to mark the approximate spot where the Romans first landed in 55BC. Caesar then discovered that he had bitten off more than he could chew—Britain was not a tiny island of primitive communities which could be routed and enslaved within a couple of days, but a huge landmass supporting disparate peoples of quite advanced cultures capable of defending themselves and their way of life. So he retreated, and events kept the Romans at home for nigh on another ninety years. Even in those far off days, Britain stood independently against the world!
The second feature was a memorial bandstand on the green. In 1989, the IRA let off a bomb at Deal barracks where the Royal Military Music School is situated. It destroyed a rehearsal room, and eleven young men—several of them mere teenagers who were doing something positive with their lives—were killed.Call that war? Most people call it sheer bloody murder! Twelve years on, and the wound is still obviously raw, we could tell that by the recent floral tributes around the bandstand.
We reached Deal Castle, but Colin strode on, determined to find his pub. We walked all over Deal looking for it with several false leads, and I was hot, tired and furious! We must have walked a mile or more up and down roads, so I sat on a seat and told him in no uncertain terms to go and look for it himself! He came back to report that he had found the ‘other one’, not the pub he was particularly looking for, and that it was open all day anyway! We sat in their tiny paved garden, but the beer wasn’t very nice at all—one of the pints tasted burnt! I calmed down a bit then, and Colin felt a bit sheepish, so we walked a good half mile back to the castle and continued our tour.
Deal Castle is the second of the three castles built by Henry VIII out of monastic stone, some of the bricks still have decorative features on them! It was designed to withstand the heavier cannonfire of the day so the whole place is shaped a bit like the club symbol in a pack of cards. It is also low-lying and unobtrusive—in fact, on our way back later that afternoon, we were only fifty yards away from it when a foreign tourist approached me and asked if I knew where the castle was! We took the tape tour again which made it much more interesting, and walked round the gloomy passages at the bottom where the soldiers used to shoot their cannons and choke with the smoke, get deafened by the noise and run over by the recoil! Such is the folly of Man!
A couple of hundred yards along the coast is the Timeball Tower. About five miles out to sea from Deal lie the Goodwin Sands, a shallow area which is often dry land at low tide. In fact, when the spring tides are exceptionally low, fishermen run trips out there so people can have sand-yacht races, play cricket and generally go mad for a couple of hours! It is a big hazard for ships—a map of shipwrecks in the area, which is displayed at the end of the pier, hardly leaves room for any more to come a cropper there! But the area between Deal and the Goodwin Sands, called ‘The Downs’, also provides a safe haven for ships to rest up a while, and they have been doing that since time immemorial.
The Timeball Tower marks the site of the old Naval yard in Deal. On the roof of the four storey building is a spike with a big iron ball on it. It used to be used by ships to correct their chronometers, absolutely essential if they were to measure longitude accurately. It was worked by an electrical signal from Greenwich. At 12.55 each day the iron ball was lifted halfway up the spike, and at 12.57 it rose to the top. This was a warning to ships in The Downs to keep watching because, at one o’clock precisely, the ball dropped to the bottom again. It is now a museum, and the timeball only works during the summer months. The following day we thought we had missed it because it was getting on for two o’clock when we started our walk from the pier. We sort of half noted that the ball was at the top, then next time we looked it was down again. We hadn’t taken British Summertime into account, and we had missed it’s descent!
Deal Pier is only forty-five years old. The original Victorian pier was badly damaged by a Dutch ship in 1940, then the remains were demolished for security reasons. After the War, the people of Deal wanted their pier back, so a new one was built and opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1957. Unfortunately, it was made from concrete and is functional rather than beautiful! However, it is longer than Bognor Pier is now (only about a third of the length as shown in the photographs of Walk no.1 since the end fell off a couple of years ago!) and we enjoyed our walk along it. There is a lower fishing section, then we sat up the top to eat our last remaining food, an orange each. It was only 5.30pm, but a man came along and asked us to leave because the pier was closing in order to set up the fireworks for the display tonight. We finished our oranges, which we had just peeled, and as a result we were the last people off the pier—well, I wasn’t going to hurry, they had given themselves five hours! There was a mini-stage set up at the shore end with loud p.a. system being tried out. We decided that tonight was going to be VERY NOISY and were glad we were camping in Walmer!

That ended Walk no.25, we shall pick up Walk no.26 next time at the shore end of Deal pier. We had originally planned to catch a bus back to Walmer, but I wanted to go and have a proper look at the bandstand and the Roman plaque, so we walked back. Later that evening we drove back into Deal to look at the fair, which wasn’t bad for a travelling one, but expensive. We didn’t have any rides! Then we sat on a bench for over an hour people-watching and waiting for these much heralded fireworks. They were NAFF!! Pure back garden stuff – what a waste of time!

When I was sticking the original photograph of Deal bandstand into my original photo-journal, I was moved to write the following words:—
What’s new, indeed!
In 1989, Britain was at peace with the whole world; but certain elements in Ireland continued to ‘fight’ their battles of yesteryear. The self-styled Irish Republican Army let off a bomb at the military barracks in Deal which is famed for its School of Music. It destroyed a rehearsal room, and eleven young men – some only in their teens – were killed whilst playing their trumpets! This bandstand was erected as a memorial to those brave young lives, and according to the floral tributes the wound is still raw after twelve years. What did this cowardly act gain the IRA and their ‘cause’? – merely the SCORN of the world!
Even as I write this a few weeks later at the beginning of the autumn term, I am listening to the radio news. In Northern Ireland, girls attending a Catholic primary school have to walk through a ‘Protestant’ estate to get there. They are being jeered and pelted with bricks and stones! The British Army have turned out in force to protect them, they have erected steel barriers either side of the road and there is even a police helicopter flying overhead! We are talking about children aged between four and eleven, for heaven’s sake! Just how low can you get?